Sierra Reeves had expected the day of her high school graduation and eighteenth birthday to be a joyful event. It signified the end of her overly protected and boring existence and marked the beginning of her actual life.
Yet, here she stood in line to accept her diploma, pulling at the ends of her chocolate-brown hair and feeling nervous instead of joyful. A layer of sweat coated her back, and her forehead itched underneath her graduation cap. She kept glancing back at the parents in the bleachers. The ceremony had started over half an hour ago, and Dad was still a no-show, the seat next to Gran unoccupied. Despite being in her seventies, Gran Waldeburg had a vitality about her that many teenagers lacked. Instead of sitting at home and knitting or complaining about modern life, she stayed active by gardening, cooking, cycling, and acquiring unusual clothing. Today she wore a floor-length, paisley dress with bell sleeves adorned by half a dozen multicolored necklaces, making her stand out like a beacon in the mass of neutral suits. Normally, Sierra didn’t mind Gran’s eccentric style, but today she wished Gran would’ve gone with something more subdued.
Noticing Sierra’s stare, Gran arched an eyebrow, which matched her unruly winter-white curls. Sierra whipped her head back, redirecting her attention to the podium. One after another, the students accepted their diplomas and shook hands with the principal.
“Fifteen more to go, and then it’s our turn,” Tammy said.
The minuscule size of Manchester, Vermont and their high school resulted in Tammy Scott standing next to Sierra Reeves. So far, this was the only good thing about June eighth.
Tammy tapped Sierra’s shoulder. “Did you ask about Burlington?”
“Yes. The answer is still the same. I can’t go.” Sierra chewed on her lip.
“Why not? It’s only two and a half hours away, and you’re eighteen now. She can’t tell you what to do!”
In front of Sierra, Becky whirled around, the golden tassel on her cobalt cap swinging, and put a finger to her lips. Tammy smiled sweetly at her, then jabbed Sierra. “It’s just for the weekend. You deserve to celebrate graduation and your birthday.”
Sierra sighed. “I tried everything. Gran won’t budge. You know I want to go.”
“That’s what you always say.”
“This time is different. She’s not just being overprotective. Dad’s coming back from business. He wants to spend the weekend with me.”
“I see. And where was he for your last five birthdays?”
Sierra pressed her lips together until her molars touched. Tammy’s brown eyes turned apologetic, and she tried to reach out. Sierra leaned away. Gran always said, “You can’t take back words.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.”
Sierra nodded, acknowledging the apology. “It’s our turn.” She made her way to the podium, taking care not to slip on the shiny, parquet floor in her three-inch black pumps. Her nerve endings grew tauter with each step. She swallowed, trying to get some moisture into her mouth. Her gaze swiped one last time over the parents in the bleachers to confirm that the seat next to Gran was still empty. Despite his promises, Dad hadn’t made it after all.
Principal Carr smiled encouragingly. A tall and put-together woman, her graphite pantsuit fit her to a T. Sierra swallowed hard. With all eyes on her, and while her dad was missing, she wanted to get this over with. The principal said words of congratulation. Their exact meaning escaped Sierra, the syllables melting into white noise. Finally, the principal reached for the diploma. Eager, Sierra extended her hand, and then the strangest of things happened. The diploma floated into her palm.
It didn’t fall into her palm. It wasn’t blown into her hand.
No. It floated. As if it had obeyed her will.
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